A group of my students presenting a public affairs case study alerted me to GovLoop, a social site specifically for people who work in government and public affairs. It is based on the Ning platform, which, as their tagline says, allows people to build and manage their own community. It's a "walled garden" approach to social media.
It's not a really new idea. Ning has been around for a while. In fact, it's been years since I joined a PROpenMic, a social community for PR professors and students.
But my own observation is that such specific industry or cause-related platforms are becoming more prevalent as people try to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio on their mainstream social networks.
Of course, it is possible to have lists on Twitter, groups of friends on Facebook, groups on LinkedIn, and communities on Google+. But even there, among my lists of students and alumni, PR profs and PR professionals, someone may share pictures of their new shoes or another cat video.
These newer places keep the social but purge the purely personal and increasingly irrelevant content. A mix of personal and professional has always been a favored aspect of social, but with the increase in users it has become harder to keep that blend suitable.
Some studies show that as few as 11% of new Twitter users in 2012 are still tweeting today. One reason is they feel too busy to maintain it after initial curiosity was satisfied. Another reason for social engagement attrition is the lack of return, i.e. there is little relevant information. These content-specific social communities are an answer for many.
I know some colleagues who have refused to jump on Twitter and Facebook, but they have accounts on Academia.edu because it is more interesting and productive for them to engage exclusively with other researchers and educators.
Meanwhile, some managers who don't want employees "wasting time" (not my view necessarily) on social media and block workplace access to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn will allow and encourage the use of Yammer, an internal social network for employees.
In the end, some may eschew the mainstream social networks for these specific ones. Others may engage in both and use them appropriately for personal vs professional engagement. But for those of us working and teaching in public relations, it's important to be aware of these sites that are more like cliques than all about clicks. The PR practitioners in particular may need to join ning sites in their industry for business-to-business and other networking opportunities. It may not be a way to get mass reach, but it will be a way to engage a more relevant audience, and one that might not be found elsewhere.